Covent Garden is where you take your aunt when she’s visiting, right?
Yeah. But actually, there are plenty of excellent places to eat in Covent Garden these days. Sure, there are still way too many tourists, and, yes, the ligaments in your eyes may seize up from all the eye rolls you perform on your way to dinner. But be strong. It’s worth it. You just have to know where to look.
Whatever cartoons you may or may not like to watch in the evening, you are most definitely an adult. And all adults need a place like Cora Pearl in their lives. This restaurant on Henrietta Street serves rich British food that’s refined without being fussy, in a space that’s grown up without being even a hint of ‘do you think a Count once died in here?’ Come with your parents or someone you want to low-key impress, or, even better, when someone else is paying. Just remember, there’s nothing wrong with an adult like yourself ordering the milk and cookies dessert. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
Will visiting this spot in Seven Dials help you understand how staff at the Department of Health spent nearly £50,000 on this Filipino-inspired takeaway? It might just. After closing their Hackney location, Bong Bong’s have opened a new restaurant on the top floor of Kerb at Seven Dials, and they’re serving some pretty tasty stuff. From a lunchtime satay curry that’s singlehandedly convinced us of the virtues of pineapple in savoury food, to adobo glazed cauliflower we could eat like M&Ms, and the biggest bowl of prawn crackers we’ve ever come across, this is a very solid lunch option in the area.
Barrafina Covent Garden
You bring someone to Barrafina when you want to pretend that you’re more successful than you actually are, and to experience some of the best tapas outside of Spain. This particular Barrafina is arguably the best of the lot, in no small part due to the views you’ll get over one of the prettiest streets in Covent Garden, as well as a curved bar that gives each diner not just a view of the kitchen, but of each other. Sure, the food’s pricey but it’s worth it, and though there’s always a wait, there are definitely worse things in life than hanging out with a glass of cava and a plate of ham. Their other Covent Garden restaurant on Drury Lane, a few minutes walk away, is also very good and has a crab slider that is a must-order.
This two floor American restaurant opposite the Lyceum is for two very different moods. On the one hand, the upstairs restaurant is all round, white tableclothed tables, high ceilings, and an open and airy feel. On the other, the downstairs martini bar is a whole different situation. Think dim lighting, velvet sofa chairs, and a very strong third date energy. Which one’s better? They’re both good. Just for different things. If you’re headed here with a group of friends and are after some of the best French toast you’ll find in London, we think you should sit in the dining room and make a meal of it. But if you’re in the mood for a drink and a bite to eat with someone you fancy, you’ll be happy to know that you can order their whole menu in the bar. That means your quick drink could very well turn into a drink with lobster mac and cheese, a wagyu fillet, and, obviously, the chocolate brioche French toast.
If you’re not already a convert, The Barbary will make you understand why eating at the bar can be a blast. All of the restaurant’s seats are at a counter surrounding an open kitchen and bar, and this place, from the same people behind The Palomar, gets everything right, from the upbeat atmosphere and incredible Middle Eastern-meets-North African food, to the service and sleek decor. It opens at 5pm, so get there before six if you want to avoid a wait, and don’t bring more than a couple of friends, as it gets loud and no one wants to be the poor bastard in the middle who gets screamed over.
J Sheekey is known for being a late-night hangout for movie and theatre types, which makes sense since it’s in the middle of the West End. It’s also known for being one of the classiest places to get a seafood dinner, and we like to come to sip champagne and eat oysters while pretending that we’ve just sold a script to a big film studio (The 10th Fast and the Furious film, but still). Prices for things like lobster are predictably high, but their legendary fish pie will cost you less than twenty quid - surprisingly reasonable for a place like this. It’s perfect for impressing out-of-towners or for a low-key special meal.
Redfarm is home to pork and crab soup dumplings that are the size of your fist and come with a straw. If that’s not reason enough to head to this three-floor dim sum spot then we don’t know what is. It might appear to be casual, what with its wood panelling and check print booths, but Redfarm can get very expensive, very fast. Your best bet is to come with a group, share the cheeseburger spring rolls, the pac-man shrimp dumplings (yes, really), and as many other dim sum dishes as your budget will allow.
Din Tai Fung is a casual Taiwanese restaurant on Henrietta Street that specialises in dumplings. Yes, there are soup and rice dishes on the menu, but if you don’t get the chilli crab xiao long bao and pork wontons in black chilli then you’re doing it wrong. Despite being a pretty huge restaurant this place fills up quick, so get there early. Or bring some of your favourite people along so they can entertain you in the queue.
This cute little Monmouth Street cafe has a special place in our hearts. Not because the food is going to blow you away, but because it’s reliable. Need a lunch spot you don’t have to book in advance? Sorted. Need somewhere quiet for an intimate catch-up in Covent Garden? This is the place. In the mood for some homemade ice tea and baked porcini pasta while you take your laptop out and pretend to do some work? Go ahead. Want to actually do some work? It’s good for that too. Head here for the convenient location and velvet sofas, and stay for the relaxing environment and tasty food.
Sometimes you need somewhere small and straightforward to escape to, and that’s where Parsons comes in. It’s a seafood restaurant on Endell Street that’s very much blink and you’ll miss it. Once you do find it, you’ll discover a classically British corridor of a restaurant where fresh catches are written up on the walls and people are happily tucking into oysters, chips, and other nice things left, right, and centre. It’s a restaurant that really suits two people but can stretch to four, we’d recommend you book ahead if going for the latter though. The seafood is lovely and simple, and the lobster mash in particular is something you’ll regret agreeing to share.
Sometimes you just want to eat pasta. But sometimes, you want to eat some really good pasta in a really great setting. That’s what Bancone is all about. And for somewhere with this much marble, and this much saffron butter on the menu, it’s very affordable too. Go for the silk handkerchiefs (sheets of skinny pasta covered in hazelnut butter and confit egg yolk), or the slow cooked ten hour oxtail ragu pappardelle. And even if you come for a quick lunch, a couple of negronis probably won’t hurt either.
We like buns - whether that’s hot cross or bao - and this spot inside Covent Garden Piazza has some pretty great buns. Foremost amongst them is the BFC Bun - think fried chicken, lettuce, and mayo in a soft bao bun - which basically tastes like a McDonald’s chicken sandwich in the best way possible. As well as bao, you can find some solid lobster rolls, rib eye steak sandwiches, and even clay oven pizza on their menu. The food is all pretty great and the seating feels al fresco without being exposed to the worst of the British weather. Make sure to book ahead at weekends when it can get pretty busy.
The Frog serves top of the range, locally sourced, seasonally inspired dishes in a setting that is best described as whimsical. The Frog is exactly the kind of place that you bring the love of your life for some mind-bending dishes involving edible flowers and dry ice. It’s all about drama here, and yes, it can be expensive, but the pre/post theatre menu is fairly reasonable. There’s also a basement bar that serves Oscar Wilde inspired cocktails. See, whimsical.
Covent Garden can be stressful. Unless trying to make your way around 200 school children reenacting ‘The Circle of Life’ is your thing. Luckily, Petersham Nurseries have brought their breed of stress-free dining to WC2. La Goccia is the kind of hideaway spot where you can spend hours eating your way through their menu of Italian classics, with anyone from your parents to your partner. Oh, and because the morning rush hour is hardly zen, there’s a breakfast menu too.
Even if a solid 20% of your day is still dedicated to Angry Birds, you’ll definitely feel like an adult at The Petersham. This restaurant inside The Petersham Nurseries serves up modern European food like white truffle tagliatelle, sea bream tartare and partridge risotto. In case the food didn’t give it away, you should know that this place can get pretty expensive, but their three-course pre-theatre menu is only £30.50. If you’ve got a thing for blown glass and chandeliers (who doesn’t), sit inside, or if you want to take in the very idyllic floral courtyard, you can sit outside too.
Chicks ‘n’ Sours’ was one of a kind. The original in Haggerston won us over with its original take on fried chicken: good birds served either with simple seasonings or with Asian flavours, and brilliant cocktails to boot. Their Covent Garden restaurant has a moodily lit basement and a slightly different menu, but the approach is identical, except now you can bring your entire crew for a slap-up chicken dinner without having to squeeze into a booth the size of your mum’s Renault Clio.
Frenchie is the kind of place where you presume that 90% of the diners have summer homes and the phone number of at least one extended member of the royal family. It might feel a bit socialite central, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go here. Everything about this modern French brasserie is equal parts elegance and fun, whether it’s the marble bar and chatty staff, or their bacon and maple syrup take on the scone. This place works for everything from a boozy grown-up birthday, to a romantic date, but if you want to indulge in a deep dive exploration of the menu, it might be best to make sure someone else is paying.
The Oystermen - Seafood Bar & Kitchen
You won’t be surprised to learn that The Oystermen serves oysters. And a bunch of other seafood. The menu switches up depending on whatever’s good that day, and you’ll eat things like squid with romesco, oysters baked with buffalo sauce, or a whole baked Dover sole. This is a is pretty small restaurant with bare brick walls, minimal decor, and it’s a solid call if you’re after an affordable seafood dinner in the area.
Hawksmoor has long had a reputation as being the best place to get a steak in London, and we agree. It backs up the claim with brilliant food - all the meat is sourced from the UK, and each steak is cooked to perfection. The Seven Dials location, in particular, is a huge basement room filled with the sounds of people eating red meat and having a good time. Besides beef, Hawksmoor does very good seafood (get the scallops), and the bar at this branch is excellent and reason enough to visit on its own - it’s excellent if you just want a sandwich and a cocktail. The French dip will sort you out.
This Peruvian spot is just off of Garrick Street, and if you’re not looking for it, you might easily miss it. The fact that it looks like a quaint little restaurant from the outside is pretty deceptive. It’s actually a big modern restaurant with a rustic private dining room, and a bar in the basement. Whether you go for a couple of pisco cocktails and some yuca fries, or a full-blown feast of salmon ceviche, roasted lamb rump, and beef empanadas, you’re pretty much guaranteed a great time. Plus, if you happen to have a spare £800 lying around you can purchase one of the colourful artworks. That or, you know, invest in 133 passion-fruit panna cottas instead.
It’s not hard to find pizza in central London, but you’ll have to look a little harder for anything even closely resembling ‘great’ pizza. The reward for your persistence is Homeslice, which does tasty thin-crust pies with super fresh toppings that range from classic margheritas, to more adventurous toppings like BBQ brisket and pickled carrots. There’s prosecco and Camden Hells on tap, so you know you’re going to have a good time, and though the pizzas aren’t cheap at £20, they’re the size of a small child so you can easily split one between a couple of you. It’s a good spot for a casual hang, as well as takeaway, as they sell by the slice too.
We could summarise this entry as ‘there is a Dishoom in Covent Garden’ and leave it at that, but in case you need a quick refresher, Dishoom is an Indian restaurant with several locations around town. This one’s the original, and it’s also one of the smallest, but lack of seats shouldn’t be too much of a problem now Dishoom (finally) introduced a booking system. As for ordering, go for the bhel puri (mixed crunchy things like puffed rice covered in light yoghurt and a tangy sauce), the street food classic pau bhaji (spicy veg mish mash spread over hot buttered buns), and the lamb chops.
You come to Kanada-Ya for the ramen - we’d go as far to say that it’s among the best in London, and with the totally reasonable prices (just over a tenner for the basic bowl of noodles) it’s a good deal. There’s not a whole lot for vegetarians, so don’t bring any, and it’s a casual, no-reservations spot so don’t expect to linger. But do expect to leave happy.
London has lots of sceney restaurants, but The Ivy Is probably the best known, especially if you read The Daily Mail. The people watching and posh vibes are definitely part of the appeal of coming here, but we’ve also never had a bad meal at The Ivy. They’ve added “pan-Asian” to the menu (heaven help us) but the shepherd’s pie and mutton curry won’t disappoint. It’s perfect for a glam date or a special meal, but if you want something more casual, its sibling restaurant the Ivy Market Grill is just a few minutes away.
Sometimes you just want to settle down in a pretty dining room with people you like, and eat steak frites with a bottle of good wine. There are few places better to do this in London than The Delaunay, which is a perfect storm of everything you love about eating out - from the decor and service to the food and atmosphere, it’s a class act. If you’re feeling really minted, it’s also great for drop-ins, a drink or even breakfast, and it has a take-out counter for coffee and very good pastries.
A London version of the legendary NYC brasserie Balthazar opened in Covent Garden in 2015, and although it doesn’t quite capture the magic of the original, it’s still an excellent go-to for classic French dishes in grand surroundings. Service is excellent, and while the food’s pricey, it’s worth it for the odd splurge. It’s great for any occasion you can throw at it, but especially for celebrations or any situation requiring a restaurant in central London.
This little wine bar on Maiden Lane is exactly the kind of place you want to stumble upon after discovering a hole in your shoe on ‘the wettest Wednesday since 1983’. Between the baked camembert, the candlelight, and all of that organic wine, there isn’t much that a visit to Lady Of The Grapes can’t fix. Want to catch up with your very best friends? Grab a bottle, dive into the charcuterie selection, and split the tarte au citron. Need somewhere charming to pop the question (no, not ‘do you want to share some brie’, the other one) and Paris is looking a little too pricey? Go for a bottle of champagne and let the candlelight do the rest. It’s cosy, it’s warm, and the wine is excellent.
Compared to other ramen restaurants, Ippudo has the advantage of a very cool-looking dining room, a much larger menu, and the ability to seat reasonably large groups of people. In other words, it’s perfect for when there are a few of you hankering after some noodles, but you want to make an evening of it without being shoehorned around a tiny table like you would be at Bone Daddies or Kanada-Ya. The noodles are good, and they have things like dumplings and pork buns on the menu as well as options for non-meat eaters. It’s still no bookings, but at least the waits are shorter and there’s an area inside for you to sit and have a beer.
Covent Garden can be a total f*cking maze, but there are plenty of places to hide away from the crowds. Bageriet, a tiny and stylish Swedish bakery, is just off Long Acre but it feels like you’re on a different planet altogether - one where cake is served for meal and there’s an invisible wall that keeps tourists out. The coffees are good and they take their baking seriously: they have the best cinnamon buns in town. It’s perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or an eye opener at breakfast.
Let’s say you and your crew find yourself wandering through Covent Garden and just want a full-on hamburger splurge, but in a place where you can sit down nicely and maybe grab a craft beer and some wings too. Meat Market, from the same guys who opened Meat Liquor near Oxford Street all those years ago, has the same filthy burgers, hot dogs and buffalo wings, but in a more casual atmosphere where you can actually hear each other talk. It’s a little hard to find, but the slightly obscure location off the main square is part of the appeal.
n.b. MEATmarket is temporarily closed.